In an era marked by contentious political partisanship, it is rare and refreshing to find elected officials who can rise above the rancor. It is even more rare to find two, which means the state of Washington will have two large holes to fill at the dawn of the new year.Sam Reed is retiring after three terms as secretary of state, and Brian Sonntag is moving on following 20 years as state auditor. Each has set a standard for impartiality that has served the citizens of the state well.
Reed has received widespread praise over the years for his moderate and reasoned approach to his position as Washington’s primary elections official. He oversaw a most delicate gubernatorial election in 2004, which finally ended — after two recounts and a court challenge — with Chris Gregoire beating Dino Rossi by 133 votes. He worked to make voter registration more secure. And he increased voter turnout through all-mail balloting. (After some states reported Election Day lines as long as six hours, Washingtonians should be grateful for vote by mail.)
Perhaps most important, Reed championed this state’s top two primary, recognizing that it is a system Washingtonians wanted and deserved. For some states, it is a novel concept that the two most popular and most qualified candidates should advance to the general election; for Washington, it required a trip to the U.S. Supreme Court to make it happen.
Reed’s integrity has been impeccable, strengthening voter confidence in the system during a time when such confidence is waning in many parts of the country.
With Clark County still laboring over the results of two races from the Nov. 6 election — both from the 17th Legislative District — transparency remains paramount. As Mike Gaston, Clark County Republican executive director, said following a recent update in the tally, “It’s important for confidence (and) for respect of the system.”
That is the ethos to which Reed has subscribed throughout his term.
Sonntag has effected similar results in a much different role. He has embraced the idea that the state auditor is a watchdog for the people, a notion for which nonpartisanship is essential. He pushed for the granting of performance-audit powers for his office, a plan that was approved by voters. And he urged the Legislature to back a one-time tax amnesty program that netted a windfall of $321 million.
As Clark County Auditor Greg Kimsey said last year, Sonntag is “an outstanding public servant and fine example for all elected officials.”
Two years ago, Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the Senate minority leader, said, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” It was the kind of confrontational hubris that all too frequently marks American politics these days, the kind of strident demagoguery that fails to serve the public.
Reed and Sonntag have represented the antithesis of this, never losing sight of the fact that they are public servants, first and foremost. Reed is moving on to retirement; Sonntag has taken a position as chief financial officer with Tacoma Rescue Mission. Much work remains to be done by their successors — Reed is urging further election reforms to avoid delayed ballots — but it’s clear that Washington is a better place because of their service.